Seattle to open safe lots for homeless families and individuals living in vehicles

In response to the continued crisis of homelessness on the streets of Seattle, Mayor Ed Murray issued an emergency order to expedite the siting of two safe lots in Ballard and Delridge for homeless individuals and families living in recreational vehicles and cars.

“These are not long term solutions to end homelessness, but temporary locations that can be managed to provide a safer environment for those living on our streets and have less impact on our neighborhoods,” said Murray. “The City’s active case management services will reach out to those experiencing homelessness and living in their vehicles, with the goal to help move them to permanent housing as quickly as possible. These safe lots will also help reduce the public health issues currently impacting several of our neighborhoods.”

The new safe lots are part of the City’s overall actions under Mayor Murray’s Proclamation of Civil Emergency on homelessness that has spurred the opening and expansion of new shelters and authorized tent encampments, and increased investments in services and outreach. Opening the new safe lots will occur along with additional trash pickups in neighborhoods, as well as renewed enforcement of the City’s existing parking rules and addressing public safety issues that have arisen in recent months.

“When Mayor Murray declared the state of emergency, the direction given to us was to take significant steps to immediately help those in need living on our streets and address underlying causes of homelessness. Since then, Seattle has expanded outreach services, opened up space for nearly 300 individuals in new shelters or authorized tent encampments and we have invested more in prevention services. Today’s announcement of new safe lots is another part of this larger effort under the state of emergency to provide immediate, short term assistance,” said Catherine Lester, Director of Seattle’s Human Services Department. “In addition to the authority under the Mayor’s emergency orders, we will be able to stand up these safe lots quickly thanks to the fast work of our partners including local service providers, other City departments and WSDOT.”

To expedite the siting and permitting of the safe lots, Mayor Murray is exercising powers invoked under his Proclamation of Civil Emergency on homelessness issued on Nov. 2, 2015. The mayor will send the emergency order to the City Council today, where it can be approved, rejected or amended.

Expected to begin operations in 30 days, the two safe lots can hold up to an estimated 50 vehicles. Each site will have sanitation and garbage service, as well as case management assistance for those experiencing homelessness in order to build pathways to permanent housing. All residents must abide by a code of conduct policy that will prohibit drugs and violence, and require residents to be good neighbors.

The Ballard site, the Yankee Diner parking lot at Shilshole Ave. NW and 24th Ave. NW, is owned by Seattle Public Utilities. The Seattle Department of Transportation has been in negotiations with the Washington State Department of Transportation to acquire a parking lot next to the Glass Yard lot at West Marginal Way and Highland Park Way SW for the Delridge site. The City and WSDOT are discussing the terms of the sale of the property and will likely require future legislation to finalize the purchase and sale agreement. But to accommodate the Mayor’s emergency order, WSDOT has agreed to allow the City to use the site as a safe lot in the intervening period during these negotiations.

Councilmember Sally Bagshaw (District 7 – Pioneer Square to Magnolia) thanked Mayor Murray and his administration for identifying spaces for people who are living in their vehicles to have a safe and hygienic place to park. “Homelessness extends far beyond our City’s limits and I look forward to working with human service providers, faith institutions, and King County leaders to create more safe spaces. This is a strong beginning, but not the end of delivering better care for neighbors who need our support,” said Bagshaw.

“Pacific Fishermen understands and shares the social responsibility and importance to the City of helping those experiencing homelessness. We support the Mayor’s approach and the use of the Yankee Diner site. If these lots are managed properly, good folks will get the services they need and there will be a reduced impact on businesses,” said Doug Dixon, General Manager of Pacific Fishermen Shipyard, which is located next door to the Yankee Diner site.

While the safe lots are being set up, temporary permitted street parking zones on City right of way will be established for those living in vehicles under the mayor’s emergency order. The temporary zones will have sanitation services and will be in place for 30 days until the safe lots are operational. The three temporary parking zones are:

Compass Housing Alliance, an existing non-profit service provider on contract with the City, will provide outreach and case management to those living in vehicles to connect them with services and a pathway to housing.

Last November, as part of the mayor’s Proclamation of Civil Emergency, the City Council unanimously approved his request for $5 million in new, one-time funds and added an additionally $2.3 million during the budget process for a total of $7.3 million. Some of those emergency dollars and a repurposing of an existing $350,000 in the City’s Human Services Department’s budget will go towards the operations and services required to stand up the safe lots and provide sanitation services to the temporary parking zones.

In addition to Seattle’s safe lots announced today, King County is studying funding options that would provide mental health, hygiene and case management services at faith-based safe parking locations across the county.

Under existing City ordinances, recreational vehicles may not be parked overnight on streets in non-industrial areas. In industrial zones, vehicles are prohibited from parking in the same location for more than 72 hours. Each of the locations announced today, both longer-term and temporary, are in industrial areas. Outside of these announced safe lots and temporary parking zones, the City will continue to enforce all existing and applicable laws related to parking throughout Seattle.

The mayor’s emergency order also invokes the authority for expedited siting of the third permitted tent encampment that is allowed under the ordinance approved unanimously by the City Council last year. The new encampment will be located in a neighborhood without an existing encampment or a new permanent safe lot.

Since the declaration of emergency, the City and its partners have opened up nearly 300 new spaces in shelters and authorized encampments, including the Queen Anne Shelter, authorized encampments in Ballard & Interbay, King County Admin building & the so-called Zombie building at 4th and Jefferson. Before the state of emergency, Seattle funded (and continues to fund) 1,600 other shelter beds.

In early January, a new shelter with capacity for 60 women opened in Greenwood. This week, Mary’s Place, which is using a City-owned building in North Seattle, expanded that facility to serve up to 100 women and children. This month, for the first time, a mobile medical van is serving those experiencing homelessness in Seattle.

Since the Mayor declared a homeless state of emergency, the City of Seattle will now invest nearly $50 million in services and shelter to help those experiencing homelessness for 2016. This is the largest annual investment in Seattle’s history.

An analysis of the City’s annual investment in homelessness services can be read HERE.

A summary of the Mayor’s spending proposal when he declared a state of emergency can be found HERE.

Maps of the two safe lots and the three temporary parking zones can be viewed HERE.